October 6, 2013 by Barbara With
Yesterday a group of scientists led by geologist Dr. Tom Fitz and geochemist Dr. Joseph Skulan hiked to Gogebic Taconite’s proposed Bulk Sampling Site 4 to hold a press conference concerning the deadly asbestos present at the site. Several journalists accompanied the scientists who explained that high levels of the dangerous mineral have been found where GTac has applied for a permit to remove thousands of tons of rock.
Fitz, an associate professor of geoscience at Northland College, showed samples of rock from the site that contained the grunerite, one of the deadliest types of asbestos.
According to Skulan, who issued this press release earlier in the day, the DNR collected rock at Bulk Sample Site 4 in the spring which was positively identified as grunerite, and the asbestiform crystal habit was confirmed by a scanning electron microscope (SEM) last week. “DNR hydrologist Larry Lynch sent me both reports,” Skulan confirmed. “The stuff we collected is identical to the DNR sample, and is from the same location.” While the presence of grunerite asbestos at Bulk Sample Site 4 was confirmed by the DNR, the high abundance of asbestos at the site has not previously been reported.
GTac’s original bulk sampling plan was deemed incomplete, with the DNR stating several concerns including the known presence of asbestos. GTac, however, claimed that asbestos does not occur in the proposed mine site:
“…NR 445 does not apply to the proposed bulk sampling activities because asbestiform minerals are not likely to be present in the Gogebic Iron Range near Mellen, WI. There are documented occurrences of amphibole minerals in the geology of this area but not all amphibole minerals are asbestiform minerals or asbestos. Based on our due diligence, the geologic conditions in the Gogebic Iron Range do not support the formation of asbestos.”
The DNR response pointed out the inaccuracy of GTac’s claim:
“While not widespread in the Mesabi Iron Range, asbestiform minerals are nevertheless present.”
GTac has yet to respond to the DNR’s August 13, 2013 letter requesting more information.
In a press conference broadcast live from the Harvest Education Learning Project, Dr. Skulan stresses the major health risks of asbestos, and Dr. Fitz shows the asbestos under a digital microscope.
Skulan and Fitz have documented the presence of abundant asbestos at one of four sites where GTac plans to conduct bulk sampling operations. The “due diligence” GTac performed in determining that there is no asbestos in its proposed mine site evidently did not include actually looking at the rocks it plans to sample. GTac has a history of giving inaccurate and misleading information to regulatory agencies and the public, and of downplaying the known risks of mining in asbestos and sulfide bearing rocks. For example, this video from a meeting in Hurley on April 23, 2013 shows GTac president Bill Williams claiming that the mesothelioma experienced by Minnesota miners was due to pipes wrapped in asbestos insulation in the processing mills and not blasting asbestos apart in the pits: